The Hazards of Résumé Screening

MBTIIt is popular now for employers to use screening tests, often administered on the Internet, to weed out a large portion of applicants for job openings before making the more difficult selections from among those who survive that first cut. Such tests are supposed to measure cognitive ability, personality characteristics, or, in fewer instances, the ability to perform in a simulation of the duties that the job requires. The easily administered and scored screening tests have their appeal, especially if you are charged with filling, say, 10 positions from 100 people who have submitted résumés.

A downside to screening tests is the risk that rejected applicants may persuade a court that the tests essentially were a tool to accomplish prohibited discrimination, even though that may not have been the employer’s intent. For example, an employment test that impacts racial minorities or women disproportionately could lead to liability unless the employer can show that the test is sufficiently related to the job and is necessary to the employer’s business.

Another potential pitfall stems from the prohibition in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against medical testing of job applicants. There sometimes is a fine distinction between acceptable personality or psychological tests and prohibited medical tests. The screening of applicants also could run afoul of some state statutes that protect against invasions of privacy.

When individuals adversely affected by a personality test challenged the test in federal litigation under the ADA, an appellate court struck down the test. The test, at least in some of its 502 questions, was a prohibited examination of the applicants’ mental health. Its true or false questions went much farther than the acceptable lines of inquiry about matters such as working well in groups or in a fast-paced office. Instead, they ventured into the realm of psychiatric disorders. In this case, a prospective manager of a rent-to-own store could not be required to give true or false answers to statements such as: “I see things or animals or people around me that others do not see”; “At times I have fits of laughing and crying that I cannot control”; or “My soul sometimes leaves my body.”